Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Taste of Summer: Konatsu

柑橘類 (kankitsurui): citrus fruit

When I go grocery shopping, I always check the discounted produce cart for deals. Sometimes the fruit there is overripe or about to expire; sometimes it’s just a bit bruised. Last week, I found a few bags of 小夏 (konatsu; literally little summer) that seemed to be in great shape but just weren’t selling. Since I’ve noticed there are a number of citrus fruits that sort of look like grapefruits but are actually sweet like oranges in Japan–for example, the haruka (はるか) that was advertised as  「すっぱくない!」 (not acidic!)–I decided to give konatsu a try.

Ah, summer! (Background is Lupicia's June magazine)

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We’re All Rooting for You: Tohoku Zunda Kitkats

郷土料理 (kyôdo ryôri): local cuisine

"Warring States Period" Dango. Zunda is on the left.

My local Family Mart never has interesting KitKits, but this weekend, I stumbled upon something special: Zunda KitKats. I had just seen The Food Librarian‘s post on zunda, too– what luck!

Zunda is a specialty of Tohoku (northeastern Japan), more specifically Sendai. Usually served on or with mochi, zunda is mashed edamame mixed with sugar, water, and sometimes potato starch. When I visited Fukushima in 2010, I got to try a zunda milkshake (ずんだシェーキ) at Zunda Saryo in Fukushima.

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The Apple Chronicles, Part 3: Very Lemony Apple Jam

手作り (tezukuri): homemade

I was a bit wary of posting my jam recipes, because I don’t feel like I’ve perfected the jam-making process. This jam, adapted from Food in Jars‘ “Honey Lemon Apple Jam,” tastes amazing, and I think the recipe is fairly solid. That said, I’m not an expert on making preserves in Japan, and so I hesitated posting this and my other jam recipe. If you have a better way to make preserves (that works in Japan), please contact me!

Hot water baths seem to be recommended way to make sure your preserves last, but I can’t find mason jars with the two-piece lid-and-ring apparatus that most Americans use for canning. Instead, I got glass jars with replaceable lids—the kind that have a bit of rubber on the inside, since they were labeled as jars for jam. I baked the jars and lids according to the “low-oven” instructions on Just Hungry.

My jar was too big!

Powdered pectin was easy to find in the baking section of the large grocery store in town. I think next time I would add more pectin—maybe a tablespoon. It set well, but when I opened the jar a couple weeks later, the consistency the jam reached was more like an apple spread than a jam. Don’t get me wrong: this apple spread is delicious with a very bright lemon flavor, but if you want something more jammy in consistency, more pectin would be a good idea.

If you have suggestions about making jams in Japan, I would be very happy to hear from you!

 Very Lemony Apple Jam

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Iwakuni Renkon Soba

3. Soba Noodles Made with Lotus-Root

もちもちつるつる (mochi-mochi tsuru-tsuru): springy and smooth (texture)
(usually used separately, but the ad for the noodles uses both in combination)

Looking back on all the places I’ve lived, the two things that make me happiest about a residence are farmers’ markets and quaint historic districts with locally run businesses. I first discovered this back in university, when I stayed in Denver for an internship one summer. Nearly every Sunday, I would head down to the Old South Pearl Street Farmers’ Market to buy bread and homemade pasta. My then-boyfriend, now-spouse and I were particularly intrigued by Pasta More’s sweet potato fettuccine, which we affectionately referred to as “weird pasta” for the duration of the summer because it was so out of the realm of our student diets. (I highly recommend it–it’s delicious!)

Japan is less of a “pasta” country, but soba, udon, and ramen are staples here. When I was in Iwakuni, my friend and I stopped in an omiyage shop to see about getting some Iwakuni renkon (lotus root) products, as renkon is the local specialty.
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The 100 Flavors of Iwakuni

2. Iwakuni Ice Cream

As a child, my favorite dessert was ice cream. Even though I celebrate my birthday in winter, I was going to have my birthday ice cream and enjoy it, dammit, even if my birthday party got canceled for a snowstorm. My favorite flavor was chunky strawberry, which is also delightfully out of season for winter in the US. I was either meant to be a June baby or to live in Japan, where strawberry season starts with Christmas cakes and continues through spring–but I digress.

I have a favorite local ice cream shop in every town I have lived in, and what will win you points with adult me is your selection of unusual flavors. When I visit my family in Cincinnati, I always make time to go to Graeter’s for their signature Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip. In college, my friends and I would head down to Bonnie Brae in the summer, standing in a line that stretched around the tiny shop; I’m a fan of their Lemon Custard, which tastes like a lemon Girl Scout cookie, as well as the Sinfully Cinnamon. In Ann Arbor, there was Stucchi’s White Russian. In Glen Arbor, any of the Cherry Republic cherry ice creams are a treat.

Japan’s ice cream shops have unusual flavors by the dozen. A lot of shops will sell prepacked single-serving soft creams that an attendant can pop into a machine, but I prefer the homemade ice creams and gelato. In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve had flavors like rose, salt, yellowtail (buri), sakura, and tofu. Matcha and azuki are pretty standard here, so I try to get the local specialty or the most unusual flavor when I travel. (One of which is mint chocolate, a standard in the US that is uncommon in Japan).

Iwakuni might be my dairy paradise, because after you cross Kintaikyô, there’s a small courtyard with at least three ice cream shops.  (I stumbled upon this information when I was searching for a fun day trip from Hiroshima, and I was sold.) One shop has about 20 flavors, mostly standards like soy milk and chocolate. Sasaki-ya, where we had lunch, had about 50, with grape and kabocha options. However, I wanted to get one from the shop with 100 flavors. But what to get?


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Golden Week is For Foodies: Iwakuni-zushi

型枠 (katawaku): mold (for shaping things)

This Golden Week, a friend and I finally ventured out to southwestern Honshû to see Hiroshima. I’ll be doing a separate post on all the tasty things we ate in Hiroshima City and Miyajima, but I wanted to start out with some of the dishes we had on our trip to Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, a 40-minute train ride out of Hiroshima City.

Iwakuni is famous for Kintaikyô (錦帯橋), a bridge with a distinctive three-arched structure and one of Japan’s three famous bridges. According to the tourism brochure, the original bridge was washed away by a flood in 1674, just a year after its construction. It was rebuilt in 1674and remained in place until 1950, when it was destroyed by a typhoon. The third bridge reopened in 1953 and reconstruction was completed in 2004. It costs 300 yen to cross the bridge (930 yen if you want to take the ropeway to the castle), and once we had, it was time to dig into the local foods before heading to the beautiful gardens.

1. Iwakuni-zushi (岩国寿司)

Iwakuni-zushi with pickles, tea, and a light soup.

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Stuffed Zucchini

日常的な食物(nichijôtekina shokumotsu): commonly eaten food

I grew up in southern Ohio, and like most Midwesterners, summer was a time of ridiculous amounts of zucchini. By the end of season, everyone had so much zucchini that you would practically pay people to take it off your hands (or just give it out for free at work). My father grew zucchini until I was in high school, and my mother would make zucchini bread and chocolate zucchini bread out of it, but we never really ventured into non-bread territory. (Except for that one time when I tried to make some kind of tomato-zucchini stir-fry that ended up not being so great.)

In Japan, zucchini is a truly seasonal vegetable, and there’s not a lot of it. I suspect it’s because it’s neither a native vegetable nor is it used in Japanese cooking, but I’ve learned how to make all sorts of zucchini dishes here even though—or perhaps because—it’s so hard to get. Ratatouille is a new favorite dish, and I’ve done variations on Smitten Kitchen’s “Quick Zucchini Saute.”

I regrettably left a baguette out in my kitchen in March, but because it was still snowing in Hokuriku, the bread went stale and didn’t mold. I never have stale artisan bread on hand because I freeze my good bread if I can’t eat it fast enough. This recipe is thanks to the convergence of my bread failure with my finding the first zucchini of the season at a co-op in the middle of the prefecture. This stuffed zucchini dish, which I adapted from Cooking Light‘s “Eight-Ball Zucchini Parmesan,” is an impressive-looking but simple side dish that brought a bit of home to a dinner. I recommend serving it with salmon and spinach.

 Stuffed Zucchini

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Spring is Here: Na no Hana (Brassica napus)

緑黄色野菜 (ryokuôshoku yasai): leafy greens, yellow-green vegetables high in beta-carotene

After a cold winter that was only matched in length by the irritatingly hot summer that preceded it, spring has finally come to Hokuriku. The supermarket is filled with spring vegetables, but the easiest and perhaps most inoffensive one (least bitter) to prepare is na no hana (菜の花).

Na no hana literally means vegetable flowers or flowers of greens. Wikipedia tells me that the English name is tenderstem broccoli or broccolini (which my linguist friend tells me is incorrect), and alc.co.jp gives me field mustards (much more apt). The scientific name is Brassica napus. The plant these leaves come from has the (unfortunate) name of rape blossoms, the yellow flowers that bloom all over Japan and from which rapeseed oil comes. Because broccoli/broccolini is a misnomer, na no hana doesn’t really resemble Western broccoli. Rather, it resembles the texture and flavor of other Asian greens like bok choy and komatsuna in that it’s like spinach, but less limp and more punchy.

This recipe takes about 10 minutes to make–super easy. The greens have a slight bite to them, which the ponzu sauce, a citrus-based soy sauce, complements. It’s nice as a side dish to a Japanese-style meal–I served it with brown rice, takenoko (bamboo shoot) miso soup, lemon sweet potatoes, and unohana (okara)–all of which will be posted here eventually. (I have quite the backlog of recipes to get through, including the rest of the Apple Chronicles.)

This is about 2 servings.

Na no Hana in Ponzu

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The Apple Chronicles, Part 2: Kabocha-Apple Whole-Wheat Turnovers

One recipe I had wanted to make for a while was “Squash-Apple Turnovers” from Cooking Light, but I was deterred by the use of canned biscuit dough. Not only is that not in the spirit of this blog, but you simply can’t buy that kind of thing in my neck of rural Japan. (I suspect I would be hard-pressed to find it anywhere but a big import store in Japan, but I’ve never seen any while hunting down peanut butter.) I decided to alter Cooking Light’sSage Dinner Rolls” to become the crust, and it actually worked perfectly—I didn’t have extra dough or filling.

New photos as of 2012/11/15!

This would be a great dish at your next expat Thanksgiving party, since it tastes like home but you can find all the ingredients easily in Japan. If your store doesn’t have sage, you can substitute thyme. If you are using frozen kabocha, boil for ~5 minutes to soften it enough to dice; drain well before using. Reheats very well; may freeze in freezer bags.

 

Kabocha-Apple Whole-Wheat Turnovers

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The Apple Chronicles, Part 1: Applesauce

「しゃきっとみずみずしい果肉をしている」(shakitto mizumizushii kaniku wo shiteiru): to have a crispy and juicy flesh (of fruit)(alc.co.jp)

One of my favorite apples grown in Japan is the Jonagold. The flesh is crisp and sweet, and the skin is a gorgeous gradation of reds and yellows. This week, however, I have been pushed to the culinary limit by my love of a good deal.

Fruit in Japan is often expensive. I look for deals–6 apples for 500 yen is a good price, as apples in Hokuriku tend to run at 150-200 yen PER apple. Last weekend, I did my shopping at a large department-store grocery (Aeon) near a friend’s house, and I found the deal of a lifetime:

1 crate of apples for 980 yen.

That’s right, 20 beautiful grade-A Jonagolds from the apple country of Aomori for 980 yen. That’s 49 yen PER APPLE, and these are big apples at 270 grams each! My head nearly exploded from the glorious savings.

Now, if I had been thinking, I would have driven to my friend’s place and given her half of the apples, or, if the universe were on my side, we would have bought said apples together before the dinner party we threw the night before. I was not so lucky, and so I found myself presented with a challenge:

1 woman who lives alone + 1 tiny Japanese refrigerator/freezer VS. 5.4 kilos of apples.

If I were home in the States, I could have easily frozen most of these, but my freezer is perpetually full of extra food and hoarded rye bread, so I can only freeze a few due to space issues.  Add to this the fact that I am leaving on holiday for part of Golden Week, and the plot thickens.

Failure is not an option, my friends! Join me on my 20-Apples Challenge!


Recipe 1: Homemade Applesauce

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